When we are young we have no concept really of what war is truly about or like. We have this glamourized version of it in our heads of heroism and the like. There is no death or suffering. There is nothing glamourous about war. It is cruel, senseless and violent. Jan Terlouw wrote a book about a Dutch boy and World War II. It seems at first glance to be a film for young people, but when you watch it you come to realize that it is a very adult film told from the perspective of a young boy. We feel for him as the young boy discovers that war is not an exciting adventure.
It is winter 1945 in the Netherlands. World War II is nearing the end and the Germans are still occupying over a neutral Holland. A young boy wakes up on a winter night to the sound and sight of a plane going down in flames. It crash lands in a field. A soldier has gone to check it out. He is shot dead by the pilot who managed to eject himself before the crash and is hanging by his parachute from a tree.
The boy and his friend go the next day to check out the plane wreckage. They are chased by soldiers. German soldiers capture one boy. He is Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier), the mayor’s son. Michiel managed to grab a watch from the wreckage before fleeing. He does not give up the name of the boy he was with, who is his best friend and next door neighbour, Theo (Jesse van Driel).
In the middle of the night his Uncle Ben (Yorick von Wageningen – The Chronicles of Riddick, Beyond Borders) returns. Uncle Ben criticizes his brother the mayor for remaining neutral. Ben tells Michiel he will beat him if he sees him getting involved in the war.
Theo’s brother, Dirk (Mees Peijnenburg), is part of a raid on a German ammunition storage. He is captured by the Germans. Before this Dirk had given Michiel a letter to give to the blacksmith if he was ever captured. Just as Michiel is about to give the blacksmith the letter the man is killed by the Germans. Michiel decides to open the letter and in it finds a location and a key.
At the location he finds the injured Brit pilot (Jamie Campbell Bower – The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1, Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) hiding in the woods. He tells him Dirk has been arrested and the blacksmith is dead. Michiel tells the young pilot named Jack that he can help him. Michiel plans to help Jack escape to another town where he has a contact who will help him.
Michiel’s father is taken away after the body of the German soldier is found in the woods. What started out as a fun game has turned deadly. Fourteen-year-old Michiel is being forced to grow up quickly.
The film was the Netherland’s 2010 entry into the Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film category. Tension you can cut with a knife. Near misses and captures. The tale of Michiel rebelling against his father by doing what he can for the resistance is an up and down ride. He is one of many young people living during World War II who had to deal with extraordinary circumstances. We see the effect the war had on young people and how it changed them. Wakes up the viewer to the psychological effects that the war had on people not directly involved. The changes in Michiel are subtle, but there. He changes from a child with naïve ideas about honor and duty to a young man who risks his life for what he believes in. The young actor who portrays him does a fantastic job.
The direction by Martin Koolhoven is note perfect. Using plenty of grey or dark tones in his sets, scenery and costumes it really sets the tone. He really seems to understand the story and services it and its atmosphere perfectly.
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